U.S. will no longer fund Syrian Kurds after months of objection from Turkey

Erdogan got the news in a phone call from Trump, who did not brief American reporters.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, and US President Donald Trump shake hands prior to their meeting in New York, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. Erdogan is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. (Pool Photo via AP)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, and US President Donald Trump shake hands prior to their meeting in New York, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. Erdogan is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. (Pool Photo via AP)

On Friday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted that he would be talking to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about peace in the Middle East. What that meant exactly was a mystery until Turkish leaders talked to American reporters.

In the phone call, Trump agreed to stop supplying arms to Syrian Kurdish fighters, the Associated Press reported, citing Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who was in the room at the time.

In a later press conference, Cavusoglu said, “Mr. Trump clearly stated that he had given clear instructions and that the YPG won’t be given arms, and that this nonsense should have ended a long time ago.”

The AP reported that there was no comment from the White House, Pentagon, or State Department, and that several anonymous officials who work on Syria policy were caught off guard by the decision. By late morning, the White House still had not briefed reporters on the topics discussed during the call, according to CNN reporter Rebecca Berg.

Recently, Russia entered the leadership vacuum left by American diplomacy in Syria, working with Turkey and Iran to determine the battered country’s future.  Erdogan recently participated in talks with Russia and Iran about a peaceful settlement in Syria.

It’s unclear why Trump made the decision to stop arming Syrian Kurds — specifically the militia fighting against ISIS known as the Y.P.G. — however it has been a longstanding priority for Turkey, which considers Y.P.G. terrorists.

Trump first approved a plan in May to arm the Y.P.G. in the effort to take back the city of Raqqa from the Islamic State, despite a White House visit from a high-ranking Turkish delegation to Trump’s National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. The city was captured by U.S. backed forces, including Syrian Kurds, last month.


UPDATE: Later on Friday, the White House issued a readout of Trump’s call with Erdogan

“Consistent with our previous policy, President Trump also informed President Erdogan of pending adjustments to the military support provided to our partners on the ground in Syria, now that the battle of Raqqua is complete and we are progressing into a stabilization phase to ensure ISIS cannot return,” the statement read. The two also discussed Turkey purchasing military equipment from the United States.